Sunday, September 11, 2011


Comic fans were thrilled to death when they heard that the X-Men comics they had loved for years were going to hit the motion picture screen. That movie and it’s two sequels pleased most but not all of the fans and brought new people into the world of the X-Men who had never heard of them. By the time the third film came out, fans were slowly dwindling away. It was time to start the franchise up with something fresh, something new. And that happens with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

It may be new but its old as well, deciding to go into the past of the X-Men instead of the present or future. This time around we see the beginnings of the X-Men, how Magneto and Charles Xavier started out as friends and then took to opposite sides of their life long battle to gain acceptance of mutants, one through peaceful means the other through force.

We witness the two as children when the film opens, one held in a concentration camp, the other in a mansion. Erik Lensherr’s (later Magneto) magnetic abilities are noticed and brought to the attention of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who kills his mother to force Erik to let his abilities flow. A tragic mistake on Shaw’s part as this sets in motion a years long search by Erik to find him and take his life.

Xavier on the other hand lives in the lap of luxury. He discovers someone in his home one night only to find his mother in the kitchen. A few questions later and its revealed this is not his mother but a shape shifting mutant known as Raven whom Xavier’s family adopts.

Years later the world is a different place. It’s the sixties and the cold war is in full bloom. CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) is trying to find evidence that Shaw is involved with the Russians in a plot to overthrow the world. Her search yields the discovery that mutants are being employed by Shaw and she seeks out an expert on mutants to understand the possible problems, a newly appointed Professor named Xavier (James McAvoy).

The CIA isn’t convinced that mutants exist or that they can be trusted with the exception of one known as the man in black (Oliver Platt). He takes Charles, Raven and Moira to a secret base he’s established. With the help of fellow mutant and scientific genius Hank McCoy and an enhancer he’s made to assist Xavier with his psychic abilities, they begin tracking down a group of other mutants to form a team that will face the challenges of Shaw.

Included in this group is Erik (Michael Fassbender), now trying to track down Shaw as an adult. He nearly finds him but once again Shaw evades him. With the help of Xavier’s group, he now has a chance. He joins and he and Xavier strike up a friendship but with opposing views as to how the world perceives mutants.

Shaw puts things in motion, manipulating the Russians and the Americans. His movements result in the Bay of Pigs face off. Can he begin a world war that will leave mutants alone remaining? Or will Charles Xavier and his X-Men put an end to his madness?

The film does a wonderful job on so many levels. For one, rather than continue the story from the previous films, it takes us back to the beginning where we witness how this team came to be. It also presents us with the back story of why Magneto and Charles both view the world from separate sets of eyes. Both have a point but they’re methods of dealing with the world are completely different.

The film also presents a great way to learn the lesson of acceptance and of bigotry, the basis for the whole series of comics when it began. The metaphor in use then was of a world that wouldn’t accept those who were different (at the time the Civil Rights movement was just making headway) and it’s something we need to be aware of even now. The story of the X-Men was just another way to make us consider that though different in some ways, we are all at our core the same.

The special effects here are well done. They never go over the top or try to make the viewer jump up screaming WOW, but are toned down to give us what we need to see and know without taking center stage. In so doing, we remain focused on the story with that added touch along for the ride.

It’s nice to see that they’ve taken this story and set the stage for more to be told. With this fresh take one can only hope that more will be made. Oh, and one small mention. This film contains one of the funniest best done cameos since ZOMBIELAND. Just be aware that it uses the F bomb if you have small children. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a great example of a comic come to life on film and would be well worth adding to your collection.

For fans be aware that there are several covers to this DVD that are being released so take your pick.

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Television series have stayed with tried and true genres for years. At one time the three main genres were doctor series, westerns and police stories. Westerns have yet to return, doctor series have begun to peter out with ER but police stories are in full swing, at least for detective series. Now the everyday policeman, the man in blue, has a turn next to the detectives in BLUE BLOODS, season one of which has just been released on DVD.

The story revolves around a family that has three generations involved in the New York police department. The main focus revolves around Frank Regan (Tom Selleck) the current police commissioner. Having served under his father Hank (Lou Cariou) who held the same rank, Frank does his best to handle the pressures of the man on the street and those in political office who seem more interested in their careers than catching criminals or protecting people.

The same family has spawned Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg), a tough as nails detective who’s willing to do anything, step over nearly any line, to make sure that people are safe and that criminals are punished. His dedication to people’s safety inevitably places him before a review board defending the actions he used, mostly violent ones, to coerce criminals to give him information. Danny is the hot head, the cop who works from his gut instead of his head.

This brings us to Erin Reagan-Boyle (Bridget Moynihan), the daughter who became a prosecutor and assistant district attorney. Erin believes in bringing criminals to trial, in putting them behind bars and in doing things legally so they can be held accountable for their actions. She is the brains behind the brawn, who loves her brother but can see the bigger picture.

Rounding out the family is Jamie Reagan (Will Estes), the youngest brother who went to Harvard and graduated but who turned his back on a lawyers life to dress in blue and police the streets. Jamie is a new recruit and graduate of the police academy as the series opens.

Each week we witness separate crimes that on occasion blend into one another, each involving different aspects of how these characters take care of the streets of New York. They try to stay apart from one another for fear of prejudicing a jury, but each one helps the other whenever possible. There is one thread among them that plays out from start to finish and that’s their missing brother.

It seems he was killed in the line of duty and on occasion these characters will refer back to him, but none as much as Jamie. Just out of the academy and on the streets, he is approached one night by a government agency that wants his help. A secret society of New York police called the Blue Templar is dishing out vigilante justice and they’re trying to stop it. So was Jamie’s deceased brother. They play a portion of a recording he made just prior to his death which leads them to believe he was killed not in the line of duty but by the Blue Templar. And now Jamie must decide whether to join their hunt for this vigilante group or take it to his family.

The series is quite well made, with some stunning visuals and photography that brings the best and the worst the New York has to offer. The acting is such that you don’t think while watching that these are actors, you believe them in each role they offer. Selleck is a stand out, a far cry from both his turn as Magnum P.I. where he was comedic and action oriented and from Jesse Stone in the series of movies he’s starred in where he’s quiet at all times. Frank Reagan is a man not to be messed with, a man who will protect his family and his city at all costs, politics be damned.

The nice thing about being able to watch season one on DVD is what I’ve said all along. If you missed the series from the start or were watching another at that time, you now have the chance to go back and start from the beginning. And with season two about to begin, what better chance than now to pick this one up and jump on the bandwagon? It’s a series that’s worth adding to any collection.

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While members of my family have been fans of this series since it began, I never quite jumped on the bandwagon for NCIS. I’d catch an occasional repeat on some unnamed network and even purchased the first season though I never watched much of it. I think it was in part because I’d grown tired of the whole number of series that revolved around the forensics that began with CSI and spawned 2 spin off series of it’s own as well as this one with it’s own spin off. I keep waiting for a new show called CSI:RFD about a team that uses forensics to investigate barnyard animal killings.

When this set arrived I decided that I’d try it out, to see what it had to offer and to discover if it was as good as my family kept trying to tell me it was. After the first few episodes I was sorry I didn’t get aboard sooner. Thank goodness that boxed sets and Hulu exists for me to get the chance to catch up.

The NCIS is the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the primary security, counter terrorism and law enforcement agency for the United States Department of the Navy.  More than half of it’s employees are civilians and they work alongside their armed forces comrades to solve crimes around the globe. But in the case of this show, its more about crimes in this country.

The NCIS team in question here is led by Special Agent Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), a straight laced apparently humorless leader who’s drive and determination make him a formidable opponent should you decide to commit a crime on his turf. Gibb’s right hand man is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and his opposite in charm and humor. DiNozzo is fond of movie quotes and flirtatious behavior and often on the receiving end of slaps upside the head from Gibbs. Next up is Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), ex-Mossad agent and a physical presence to take down criminals. Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) is the teams computer whiz. Abbey Sciuto (Pauley Parette) is the teams forensics and scientific genius and rounding out the team is Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum), their resident doctor and coroner.

This team takes on all sorts of cases but for the most part murderers. The season opens by finishing the cliff hanger from season 7 where Gibbs took on a Mexican cartel who then marked him and his family for death. Rather than face him head on, they send a team to kill his father played by Ralph Waite. You should be able to guess the results since Harmon continues with the series to this day.

Other episodes in this season seemed to reveal a thread to me that might or might not have been intentional. That thread was an involvement of fathers. One episode features a story that involves DiNozzo’s dad played by Robert Wagner. A two episode set revolved around Ziva’s father Eli (Michael Nouri), the head of the Mossad and an attempted assassination on him while he’s visiting Washington. Yet another episode involved an ex-covert agent whose granddaughter is kidnapped to try and get him to reveal himself. This idea of fathers in stories just seemed to resonate with me while watching season 8.

So what makes the series so good? As with most ensemble series it’s a combination of the cast and their interplay that makes it stand out. They gel well together, combining to make a family type group where they may joke and tease one another, but deep down they truly care what happens to each other. You know that every character here put into a bad situation would be willing to get the back of any of the others. And that’s a comforting thought to have in a field like this.

The acting is so great yet so subtle here for the most part. But even the over the top characters fit well into the entire situation displayed. Abbey may appear to simply be a Goth chick but she knows her stuff. And while DiNozzo may be a huge yet seemingly unsuccessful flirt, his charm still shines through.

The stories also help by presenting us interesting tales that hold our interests from start to finish. And like most good mysteries, they give us enough clues that if we’re paying attention we should be able to solve the puzzle along with the characters at about the same time.

Jumping on to this series by picking up season 8 won’t hinder you from enjoying it or leave you wondering where it all began. You’ll catch up quickly and enjoy the show on its own. And perhaps you’ll join the thousands already watching weekly and then go back to pick up previous seasons. Owning this one would just be a treat for your collection.

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It seems that successful TV series always must result in spin off series trying to capture the same genie in a bottle that the original did. It works on occasion, but then sometimes it doesn’t. CRIMINAL MINDS: SUSPECT BEHAVIOR kind of falls in the middle.

The series follows a special unit of the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) of the FBI, but not quite like the team in the original series. This team is called a Red Cell, a special group put together by the head of the FBI to be a rapid response team of agents and civilians alike that will try and solve crimes that have begun before they escalate into something more heinous.

The team is led by Special Agent Sam Cooper (Forest Whitaker), a dogged leader whose goal is to take out the bad guys at all costs but as peacefully as possible. Cooper is a genius when it comes to putting together the facts he sees, those his team gathers, and sifting through them to get to the clue needed to capture the unsub (unknown subject).

The team Cooper has pulled together comes from various sources, partly because of his penchant for not wanting to deal with bureaucrats and partly because (my guess) the network wanted to include as many diverse people as possible in this series. In some cases it works, in others not so much.

Cooper’s right hand is Beth Cooper (Janeane Garofalo), a much subdued agent with what appears to be a highly pessimistic attitude. Ex-British Special Forces agent Mick Rawson (Matt Ryan) is a weapons expert and the teams good looking guy to get women to watch. Jonathan Simms (Michael Kelly) is an ex-on trying to redeem himself by putting other criminals away. Gina LaSalle (Beau Garrett) is the heart of the team, the conscience if you will. And rounding out the team from home base is Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) of the original series doing the same here for this team as that one, finding info via computer to help them along.

As with the original series, this team targets criminals whose crimes are serial in nature but not always murder. Episodes range from kidnappers to murderers to bombers. In each case, the team uses their expertise to put together a profile of the killer, to delve into their mind and discover what it is that makes them tick in an effort to catch and stop them before others are harmed.

It would seem that this would make for a show that was worth adding to your DVR list if not outright owning given the popularity and excellence of the original show, right? But I’m not quite sure. Watching this initial season of the series, taking it all in, I can’t quite decide if I love it, hate it or am just indifferent to it. But then again it might just be due to growing pains that all shows have in their first season. Rare is the case when a series clicks from the first episode.

So what works? The stories. The idea that these criminals are out there and that a team has been comprised that will meet them on their own ground and do everything in their power to stop them.

What doesn’t? To begin with Whitaker needs to be let lose. He’s a fantastic actor but his character here is far too subdued. We need to know more about Cooper, to see him let lose more often. Garofalo just seems to drift through. Her character seems like her real life personality, that of someone dissatisfied with everything determined to bring down the rest of the party. Watching her all I can see here is the cartoon character Daria brought to real life.

But perhaps the one thing missing here that the original series has is that sense of family between the characters. Maybe that’s something that will develop as the series progresses. But if it doesn’t happen soon it may never get the chance to. In reading reviews online at IMDB it appears that most aren’t all that favorable. But I think in terms of viewers many are like me, sitting and waiting to see what happens.

As an initial season this one will hold your interest from start to finish. If you love the original series, you’ll want to compare the two, but do that keeping in mind this is not the same show. It’s different. It comes from a different angle. It may become something better than it’s beginnings show and maybe not. Only time will tell. Until then we’ll have an early start here that we’ll be able to compare it to one day. And more stories of unsubs on the lose and being caught.

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There have been a ton of movies released since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT that have supposedly been “lost film” movies. These are movies that present a story using hand held camera footage that was supposed to have been lost but then rediscovered and can now be shown to the public. Some work (like THE LAST EXORCISM) and others don’t (too many). TROLL HUNTER works and works well.

This Norwegian film begins with a group of students shooting a film that’s supposed to be about poachers and hunters killing bears in the nearby forest. The problem is that once they arrive and see the bear that’s been killed, they know this wasn’t normal nor was it done by hunters. Seeing a man off to himself, they begin to follow him. Rumor has it that he is a troll hunter, those fabled creatures found in fairy tales.

The group follows him around and pesters him until he finally allows them to go with him in his travels. He drops hints to them that there are indeed trolls roaming the various forests but that the government does all it can to keep this fact unknown to the world. Of course the kids think he’s full of it but play along thinking they can get an interesting movie out of it. They get more than they bargained for.

One night after he leaves them behind to set a series of troll traps, he suddenly comes back and tells them to sit still and be quiet. He continues to ask them if any of them are Christians to which they always respond no. It seems that trolls have an aversion to Christians and can smell them out.

As the group sits and jokes, oblivious to his warnings to be quiet, they see something shaking the trees in the distance. Soon they can see what it is when they come face to face with a giant troll breaking through the branches. Running for their lives with the troll in pursuit, it is the troll hunter who rescues them when they reach his vehicle, equipped with lights that freeze the troll until morning when the sunlight turns him to stone.

Here is where the film changes, becoming a quest for the group to document the reality that trolls do indeed exist and the cover up being initiated by the government to keep people unaware. It seems that the trolls have been given a substantial piece of land where they are to remain but recently have begun to cross over. One can only imagine if an army of these giants were to cross their border. Only the troll hunter keeps them in line.

This movie works on so many levels. As a “lost footage” true story film that turns once we glimpse the trolls (not that I would believe in them to being with). When the trolls make an appearance we find ourselves in another world where fairy tale creatures exist and few can hold them back. Rather than a movie about someone whose mind is lost that believes in trolls, we find ourselves believing as well.

The acting involved (don’t expect names because I’m nearly certain no one would recognize them anyway) is well played with each actor making us believe they are this group of youngsters who find themselves in way over their heads. And the actor portraying the grizzled troll hunter does a remarkable job as the worn out man who must see to it they’re contained.

The special effects are remarkable with stony giants come to life on the big screen. These aren’t the lumbering creatures that perhaps a Harryhausen might have made 40 years ago, these are fast moving creations that would rush after you with little hope of escape.

The movie is vastly entertaining, taking its time to unwind and allow the story to unfold. Its not the normal jump into the creature 5 minutes into the film. We get to know the characters first, to witness their motivations and beliefs before we get to the trolls. But once we do it’s a non-stop ride of imagination and combination of fear and fun you will enjoy.

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Keanu Reeves is an actor that people either seem to love or hate. Those that love him think of him as Neo in THE MATRIX films. Those that hate him think he’s little more than bumbler Ted from the BILL AND TED movies. The fact is he’s both and so much more. He’s an actor who has good and bad moments like everyone else in the world. And in HENRY’S CRIME he displays what would appear on the surface to be a wooden character but who is actually a man who never quite came alive.

Henry Torne is in a rut. He works as a toll booth collector and goes through his day to day existence with no life to his life. When his wife (Judy Greer) talks about having children he doesn’t even get excited about that. But his life changes.

Asked by a friend to drive them to participate in a baseball game, Henry unwittingly finds himself the driver of a getaway car for a bank robbery. Left behind, he’s arrested and sentenced to prison, never giving up the names of those who were with him.

Henry’s cell mate is a long time prisoner named Max Saltzman (James Caan). A confidence man who’s been in prison for years, Max is content with the system, it works for him. He talks to Henry about finding your goal in life, living up to your potential, and then trying to make it happen. For him, that’s prison.

During a discussion between prisoners Henry finds his mission in life. He’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. That being the case he twists things backwards. He’s done the time, now he needs to do the crime.

After his release Henry stands outside of the bank he was arrested in front of. Stepping into the street he’s hit by a car driven by Julie Ivanova (Vera Farmiga). Julie makes sure he’s okay, takes him to a small coffee shop across the street and leaves him to get to work. It’s in the bathroom Henry finds his mission when he sees an old front page of the local newspaper from decades ago describing a tunnel between the bank and the theater across the street.

Visiting the theater, Henry finds Julie involved in the play THE ORCHARD TREE being performed there. They talk and he looks around the building, realizing that perhaps the tunnel still exists. Visiting Max in prison, he asks for his help which means Max getting out. Max follows through, looks over the job and things move forward.

Various other criminals get involved in the whole story and Henry begins dating Julie. For once he seems to have something in his life that makes him want to move forward, to wake up in the morning. But once the crime is finished, he leaves Julie behind and moves on. Is it the crime that is the focus of Henry’s life now? Or is it Julie?

Reeves performance is one that is unusual at best. Henry is a stoic individual who rarely if ever displays emotion. It is only on stage while performing with Julie that he shows anything at all. But that’s the character Reeves is playing here. A man dead to the world who had no clue how to let lose, how to expose himself to anyone. And when he does, he does so on his terms, displaying nothing on his face but plenty in his actions and words.

The entire cast does an excellent job as well, supporting Reeves character while establishing their own at the same time. Particularly interesting was watching Caan as Max and thinking back to his 1981 film THIEF where he plays a bank robbing thief as well. It might make an interesting double feature at home one night.

The nice thing about this film is that it has a feel good sense about it without getting mushy. You want Henry to find life, you want him to find something, anything, that will wake him up and make him get out into the world. And by the end of the film you realize that perhaps he just might make it after all.

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